Audio Remasterer: Joe Brescio.
Liner Note Author: Anthony Seeger.
1955 was an eventful year for Pete Seeger. It was the year the folksinger, who turned 36, testified as an unfriendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, leading to a seven-year ordeal before his conviction for contempt of Congress was overturned in 1962. Naturally, there is no hint of that on the two children's albums he released on Folkways Records in 1955, Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Little Fishes and Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Bigger Fishes, which have been combined here on a single CD by Smithsonian Folkways. But the LPs served to further his image as a harmless folksinger instead of a Communist agitator, and they also reflected the career he had been forced to pursue because of redbaiting. Seeger might have had to break up his successful pop group, the Weavers (who re-formed on a part-time basis at the end of 1955), and he might be blacklisted from radio and television. But he could still earn small amounts of money as a children's entertainer in schools and summer camps, and he demonstrated his affinity for the work here. As a father of three small children himself, he clearly knew what pleased little ones, and so did his stepmother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, who had published the books American Folk Songs for Children and American Animals Songs for Children, which Seeger used as sources for the selections on these albums. The first one (tracks 1-15) is intended for smaller children, and it lives up to its title, with multiple references to the many living things that might be encountered on a farm, complete with appropriate noises. The stories are fanciful and charming, and little kids can sing along. In Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Bigger Fishes (tracks 16-28), it isn't so much that the fishes are bigger (in fact, there aren't really any fish mentioned in the songs, or any bugs, for that matter), it's that the music is intended for slightly bigger children than those on the other disc. How old? Well, there is a little boy of eight who is the lead character in the story song "Bear Hunt," and that sounds about right. Often, the tunes are not so much children's songs as songs of rural life prominently featuring animals, with appearances by a bull, a bat, a doe, a ram, a fox, ducks, geese, a turtle dove, horses (including one named Old Paint), an elephant, a frog, and a dog named Old Blue. Those animals are sometimes slaughtered or eaten by other animals, so the tone isn't always welcoming to children (especially smaller ones). But when Seeger comes to "The Foolish Frog," a song and tall tale he first heard told by his father, the musicologist Charles Seeger, who took it from a 19th century vaudeville act by May Irwin, children and adults are likely to be delighted with the results. ~ William Ruhlmann